Whenever you hear someone coughing nearby, you may automatically move to shield yourself or walk away as fast as possible. Interestingly, those who have a cough also tend to move away from other people and cover their mouths whenever they have a coughing fit, especially in public places.
This is only natural. As humans, our instincts tell us to protect ourselves and others from potential dangers, which include coughs.
However, this instinct related to coughing is grounded on one idea that may not be entirely accurate — that a cough is contagious.
But are all coughs really contagious? This article looks into important facts about a cough and the ways that people come down with it.
Top 3 Questions Answered Coughs Contagious
1. What is a cough?
A person coughs when something is irritating his throat. This can be dust, nasal drainage, foreign objects, or even mucus and phlegm. Rather than sickness in itself, coughing is a reflexive action that keeps the respiratory tract clear of any obstructions that may disrupt a person’s breathing.
In short, coughing is a protective mechanism. It makes you expel anything in the throat that shouldn’t be there. It is important to note, however, that there are several types of cough, including:
- Dry cough – This type of cough doesn’t produce mucus and is also referred to as non-productive cough.
- Wet cough – Also called productive cough, this type of cough produces mucus.
- Barking cough – This type of cough is caused by viral illnesses that may be accompanied by Croup itself may also cause barking cough, especially in young children.
- Whooping cough – A whooping cough is often considered as a sign of pertussis. It is a cough that makes a whooping sound and often manifests in children.
- Acute cough – This is a short-term type of cough which may only be beginning or has been intermittent within one week or so.
- Chronic cough – A chronic cough is a long-running cough that lasts from one to eight weeks or more.
- Stress cough – This type of cough is reflexive and is often non-productive. As the name implies, stress cough typically occurs when a person is under a lot of stress.
2. Why do people cough?
The cough reflex is often caused by foreign particles or other things that can irritate the throat like dust, nasal drainage, phlegm, and mucus, among others. Here are some of the most common reasons why people cough:
● Foreign bodies irritate the throat
In most cases, people who cough once or twice don’t have any type of sickness or medical condition. Rather, they are only experiencing the cough reflex to get rid of the foreign object that might be irritating their throat.
This occurs when the airways are clogged with mucus or postnasal drip when a person has a cold. It is also the case when you accidentally inhale dust or smoke, both of which can make breathing difficult.
Another cause of chronic cough is asthma. Although children are most at risk for this type of cough, adults can also suffer from asthmatic coughing. This involves a wheezing sound during the cough, so it can be easy to distinguish from other types of cough.
Asthma is often hereditary, but some may acquire it through a toxic lifestyle.
Cough caused by asthma is usually treated using an inhaler. It is also possible for young children to grow out of the condition when they get older.
● Viruses and Bacteria
A viral or bacterial infection is considered the most common cause of cough in people of all ages.
People with the common cold or flu often have a cough that may last for a couple of days if caused by respiratory tract infections. However, a cough that emerges due to influenza may last longer and may require antibiotic treatment.
● Acid reflux
Acid reflux can also cause chronic coughing. People with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) often experience the reflex due to the contents of their stomach flowing back up into the esophagus. This backflow, which is often accompanied by stomach acid, irritates the throat and stimulates the reflex in the trachea.
Allergic reaction to dust and other airborne allergens may also cause coughing. Depending on the accompanying symptoms, allergy-induced cough often occurs due to the swelling of the airways.
Aside from cough, allergies also come with the following symptoms:
- Itchy eyes, nose, or roof of the mouth
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Red, teary, or swollen eyes (conjunctivitis)
3. Are all coughs contagious?
The short answer is no. A cough in itself is not contagious. This is often the case for people who cough due to foreign objects blocking, impeding, or irritating the airways.
However, a cough can be a method through which viruses and bacteria can be spread from one person to another, particularly if the germs can be transmitted via airborne droplets. In short, the act of coughing itself is not contagious, but what you’re coughing up might be.
Consequently, it is easy to see why people would think that coughing is contagious. However, you must understand that the infecting pathogen is what you must be wary of, not the reflexive action it comes with.
Still, it is crucial to remember that if you cough and there are people nearby, make sure that your mouth is covered to avoid passing along any type of bacteria to them.
Also, if you are within earshot of someone with a cough, it is better to steer clear of the person if you’re not sure what caused his cough. This is to avoid catching a cold or flu viruses in case they do suffer from such contagious illnesses.
A Quick Roundup
Coughing is a good thing in the sense that it helps protect a person suffering from serious respiratory issues, particularly those that may impede breathing. However, some of the underlying reasons that cause a person to cough may be spread through the reflexive action of coughing.
If you don’t know what caused a person to cough, always cover your nose and mouth in case they carry pathogens that could be spread through airborne droplets.